EDITOR'S NOTE: Each month, we will profile one of our Celebrate Community partners, explaining its history and role in the community.              

CHIPLEY — Florida Panhandle Technical College has many answers to that age-old question of what to be when one grows up or which direction to take when it’s time for a career change.  

FPTC was established in 1967 as Washington-Holmes Area Vocational Technical Center, but was rebranded two years ago with the new Florida Panhandle Technical College (FPTC) name and the same mission of preparing students for a new career in a year or less. FPTC Director Martha Compton said many students didn’t realize they could attend the school before the name change.

“We serve students from all over the Panhandle,” said Compton. “Our name represents a new clientele.”

FPTC offers adult general education so students can obtain a GED and career training in many cluster areas. Students can earn certification and learn trades in architecture and construction, communication, administration, health science, hospitality, information technology, public safety, manufacturing and transportation.

“We’re moving out of what’s considered traditional technical programs. Most people think of welding, automotive, carpentry and electrical, which we still have, but we’re also opening up to others (trades),” said Assistant Director Bryan Lee.

One of FPTC’s newest programs is Unmanned Vehicle Systems which will roll out this fall with a curriculum covering how to operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to serve different industries, such as agriculture, real estate, law enforcement and transportation to name a few. FPTC now also offers a program to train students to be hemodialysis technicians to work for companies like DaVita Dialysis Center.

FPTC customizes programs to meet specific needs of employers, such as when it partnered with Anderson Columbia and CareerSource Florida to create a construction vehicle technician curriculum.

Compton said businesses often call FPTC with a need for a specific skillset in an employee. If a viable candidate doesn’t already exist, the school creates a customized curriculum to generate the right type of applicant for the job. FPTC embraces flexibility to adapt to the jobs of the future. 

“In this day and age, we don’t even know which jobs are going to be here in ten years. Trying to prepare for jobs that don’t even exist yet is very complicated,” said Compton.

Over the years, Compton said the model for vocational training has changed. Back in the 1980s, students were either funneled into a college readiness pathway or a career pathway.

“Colleges have just about priced themselves out of business,” said Compton.

The swelling cost of typical undergraduate and postgraduate degrees that do not guarantee employment has consumers reevaluating the necessity of a traditional college education.

“Career and technical education is for everyone,” said Compton, adding that it doesn’t matter if the student is looking for a more efficient route to new career or is returning to school to sharpen existing skills.

Lee said it’s rewarding to see FPTC students realize their own talents and abilities.

“We may have someone go through the pharmacy technician program and realize they want to go on and be a pharmacist, that it’s within reach,” said Lee.

FPTC strives to help students to achieve work-life balance and overcome financial barriers to higher education by keeping tuition rates low. Much of the student population is on federal student aid or has received a helping hand from the FPTC Foundation that awards over $85,000 per year in tuition. The expertise level of its instructors has also strengthened FPTC’s financial standing. This year, faculty and staff earned over $100,000 in performance funding from legislators.

The school hopes each student will be an individual success story. One of Compton’s favorite success stories was a young man from Chipley High School who started attending FPTC when he was 17. He enrolled in the drafting program, rode his bicycle to school and needed a lot of help obtaining employability skills. Employability skills are desirable traits employers look for in a job candidate, such as communication skills, ability to solve problems, organization, teamwork and the like.

“We run the school just like students are in the workplace. We conduct business as if they’re on the job,” said Compton.

Compton said this student excelled in the SkillsUSA program and graduated making over $30,000 a year at 19-years-old with his drafting skills. To her, he’s an example of how far students may go in their short time at FPTC if they bring in a true desire to succeed. FPTC offers many resources to help students prepare for landing that first real job. 

Students preparing for a job interview may go through cosmetology to get their hair done and the school helps students acquire the proper interview attire. CareerSource Florida sends an interview team so students can practice interview skills. At the end of the day, FPTC strives to produce the kind of professionals desired in the local community.  

“Our mission is to serve our community with the very best employees we can provide who then become residents of a proud community,” said Compton. “We’re doing something right.”